View synonyms for ethics


[ eth-iks ]


  1. (used with a singular or plural verb) a system of moral principles:

    the ethics of a culture.

  2. (used with a plural verb) the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: Christian ethics.

    medical ethics;

    Christian ethics.

  3. (used with a plural verb) moral principles, as of an individual:

    His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.

  4. (used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions. Compare axiological ethics, deontological ethics.


/ ˈɛθɪks /


  1. functioning as singular the philosophical study of the moral value of human conduct and of the rules and principles that ought to govern it; moral philosophy See also meta-ethics
  2. functioning as plural a social, religious, or civil code of behaviour considered correct, esp that of a particular group, profession, or individual
  3. functioning as plural the moral fitness of a decision, course of action, etc

    he doubted the ethics of their verdict


  1. The branch of philosophy that deals with morality. Ethics is concerned with distinguishing between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions, and between virtuous and nonvirtuous characteristics of people.

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Derived Forms

  • ˈethicist, noun
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Word History and Origins

Origin of ethics1

First recorded in 1400–50; late Middle English ethic + -s 3, modeled on Greek tà ēthiká, neuter plural
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Synonym Study

See moral.
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Example Sentences

Will Huntsberry reports that as part of her probation she’ll also be required to take a medical ethics course.

It is yet another potential violation of the city’s ethics rules.

Barrios stressed in the new filing that “no conflicts arose” during his period of overlapping employment, but he could have run afoul of the city’s ethics ordinance anyway.

This is, of course, nothing new, but it has highlighted the need for international standards on ethics and reporting mechanisms that are flexible but responsive.

Anya’s been thinking a lot about Disney princesses lately because of a writing project she had in school, for ethics class.

Fridays there is ethics and law of war training and instruction.

Tom Rust, a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment to The Daily Beast.

Still, his conviction will restart a House Ethics Committee investigation into his actions.

Whether or not Hippocrates ever actually said “First, do no harm,” the axiom is central to medical ethics.

Arthur Caplan is the director of medical ethics for NYU Langone Medical Center.

She was just as honestintentionallyas she could be, but the ethics of business dealing were not quite straight in her mind.

The religion of Rome may not have advanced the theology or the ethics of the world, but it made and held together a nation.

Your religion does not make it—its ethics are too weak, its theories too unsound, its transcendentalism is too thin.

Impatiently I smother the accusing whisper of my conscience, "By the right of revolutionary ethics."

Ethics, in short, may be regarded as composed of unlike halves, which unite centrally to form a whole.


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More About Ethics

What are ethics?

Ethics are a system of moral principles or rules that say what is and is not acceptable.

Generally speaking, ethics refer to the rules or code of conduct that people use to determine when an action is acceptable or not. Often, a person’s ethics are based on the rules of their society, such as laws or religious teachings. A society’s ethics might say that it is wrong to steal from someone else, for example.

You may have your own ethics that are different from the society or community you live in. For example, you may move from a country where owning a gun is legal to one where it is not. In this case, your personal ethics (your belief that owning a gun is okay) may contradict the ethics of the country you now live in.

In philosophy, the word ethics is used to mean the study of what makes a person decide what is right and wrong. Philosophers often use the word morality to mean the same thing.

Outside of philosophy, though, we consider ethics and morals to be two different sets of values. Generally speaking, the difference between the two is that ethics are what a community considers to be right and wrong, and morals are what an individual considers to be good and bad or evil.

Why is ethics important?

The first records of the term ethics come from around 1400. It ultimately comes from the Greek éthikos, which combines the word êthos, meaning “custom,” and –ikos, which forms adjectives. The ethics of many societies are often determined by their customs.

It is understandable if you are still confused by the difference between ethics and morals. The two concepts are often closely interconnected, and ethics are often motivated by the morals that a large number of people have. Many laws, seen as the ethics of society, forbid things that people consider to be a serious violation of morals, such as killing another person.

However, people can have different morals and ethics from each other or their society. For example, the law might allow a farmer to do whatever he wants to the animals he owns. So, a farmer might decide to kill most of his male chicks because he only wants female chickens to lay eggs that he can sell. The farmer is both not violating the ethics of the society he is a part of and he is not violating his own ethics or morals because he personally believes there is nothing wrong about culling male chicks. But many animal rights activists would declare that this practice is morally wrong. You’ll find that people often passionately debate about what should and should not be considered acceptable according to ethics.

Did you know … ?

Sometimes, the ethics of a profession are in conflict with the ethics of society. Journalists will often protect the identity of their sources even under threat of being sent to prison because they refuse to violate the ethics of journalism.

What are real-life examples of ethics?

To help you out, we have a video explaining the difference between ethics and morals:

What’s The Difference Between “Morals” vs. “Ethics”?

<iframe class="wp-embedded-content" sandbox="allow-scripts" security="restricted" style="position:absolute;clip:rect(1px, 1px, 1px, 1px)" title="“What’s The Difference Between “Morals” vs. “Ethics”?” —" src="" data-secret="GWQx0wPdBq" width="500" height="282" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>

The word ethics is often used in instances where a person or even a whole society had an ethical dilemma or violated ethics.

What other words are related to ethics?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Ethics are the rules that define what is right and wrong.